It’s highly likely that some of your cosmetics have bugs in them, intentionally. I’m talking specifically about the extract from one little critter called a Cochineal beetle. This beetle extract is used in both traditional (petroleum-based) and natural makeup for the brilliant, cool-toned pinks and reds it imparts. This buggy dye is generally referred to as “CARMINE” in cosmetics, makeup, and food.
The Cochineal beetle (Dactylopius confuses), native to Mexico and Central America, spends her happy life feasting on various cacti. Yes, you guessed it, only the female beetle is used for the dye.
She is harvested and her exoskeleton is crushed to create a brilliant crimson red dye extract commonly called Carmine. The Aztecs were the first to use Carmine as a red dye. Carmine is now not only found in cosmetics but in many other consumables from your strawberry yogurt and colored drinks to perfume and vitamins.
Carmine is very frequently used to add color vibrancy, long-wear and shade intensity to makeup. It is also the ‘go-to’ natural dye when cosmetic chemists want to achieve specific cooler ranges of pinks, purples, and reds while avoiding the use of synthetic red, purple, and pink FD&C and Lake dyes.
To date, we ‘ve never used the natural dye ingredient, Carmine, in any of our products for a variety of reasons. We do everything possible to select ingredients and ingredient sources that create the most effective, beautiful cosmetics with the least contamination or irritants, making our natural cosmetics extremely safe for even our most sensitive customers.
Is Carmine vegan? No, Carmine is found in cosmetics, food, pharmaceuticals, and vitamins. The vegan lifestyle does not permit the use of bugs for any reason.
We also try to keep as many of our cosmetic formulas as vegan-friendly as possible. Since the ingredient Carmine is made from a beetle, it’s not a vegan ingredient. As with Beeswax, the inclusion of Carmine in a cosmetic would invalidate any vegan claims.
Why would any brand use Carmine in their makeup? The short answer is that makeup brands use this ingredient because they feel it’s the best ingredient to achieve the brilliant cool pinks and reds their customers demand while staying cleanly within the brand’s natural makeup claims.
Why? Aren’t there other ways to color makeup naturally? There are four ways to color cosmetics. Adding an additional color to skincare isn’t necessary, but color is quite literally the point and function of a makeup product.
Artificial FD&C and Lake Dyes: The most popular pigment ingredient used in makeup by both traditional cosmetic brands and brands claiming to be natural is artificial FD&C and Lake Dyes. These dyes are brilliant but in no way natural and we believe not appropriate to be included in a natural makeup product.
Iron Oxides: The second type of pigments is called Iron Oxides. They are natural in origin but as the name suggests, are derived from the oxidation process of iron. You may know the substance commonly as rust. Iron oxides come in a variety of powder reds, yellows, browns, and black shades. The only draw-back to using exclusively iron oxides as an ingredient is that Iron Oxide reds and yellows are always orangy and warm in undertones which don’t make for a great cool-toned color palette. We’ve had this too warm/orangey” challenge for years with no remedy to achieve brilliant, cool toned pink lip shades our customers crave.
Carmine: Carmine is the third common colorant that is used in both natural and traditional (petroleum-based) makeup lines. As you may have already observed, traditional makeup brands simply use the ingredient that is most effective regardless of its origin or its ethical issues. Natural brands have a number of other considerations but, when faced with the challenge of delivering the colors their customers demand, they will default to using Carmine in certain natural lipstick, natural lip gloss, and natural blushes.
Fruit and Vegetable Dyes: Have you ever left a piece of fruit out? You know what happens, it always turns brown. This shade change is known as oxidation and it happens 100% of the time when any fruit or vegetable is exposed to air. The warmer the climate, the more accelerated the oxidation process. While there are a number of natural brands claiming to derive their brilliant makeup shades from “fruit pigments’, we are very, very skeptical.
Most of the more intense fruits and vegetables such as beets and purple potatoes do yield a pigment that can be used in cosmetics but (and this is a big one) the pigment only works in water-based formulas. Most makeup, especially lip and cheek makeup is oil based. While that particular fruit may be in their formula, we don’t believe for a moment that it’s what is responsible for that brilliant magenta pink… and you shouldn’t either. Our BS radar goes off bigtime when we see some of the colors “natural” brands are claiming come from “fruit pigments”.
What does a Carmine allergy look like? While quite rare, a topical reaction to Carmine can look as mild as slight itching and watering eyes or can be as severe as swollen shut eyelids, a progression to anaphylaxis, or a complete swelling of the throat requiring a trip to the ER.
What does Afterglow Cosmetics use instead of Carmine? We use a variety of natural Iron Oxide pigments and Micas specifically treated with Iron Oxides and heat to achieve red, pink, and purple hues. It’s an ongoing challenge for us to develop certain shades without this ingredient.
What cosmetics contain Carmine? Any cosmetic may contain Carmine as a color additive. If a cosmetic product claims to be vegan and contains Carmine it’s mislabeled. Carmine is never vegan.
How do I avoid Carmine? The most straight-forward way to avoid Carmine is to purchase products from companies that specifically and publicly state that they disclose 100% of the ingredients on the label and know what they are talking about if the claim their cosmetics are vegan. If a product is vegan it should be 100% Carmine-free.
That may seem harsh, but here’s why I only trust full disclosure companies:
The FDA allows cosmetic companies to NOT disclose any ingredients used in a formula in concentrations of under 1%. Cosmetic companies that do not explicitly state that they disclose 100% of their ingredients on the label may include Carmine in their cosmetic formula and simply not include it in the ingredient list if it appears in concentrations of less than 1% of the entire formula.
There are various loopholes in cosmetic labeling that may allow a cosmetic company to include Carmine in their formulas but hide the ingredient from the label and the consumer. If the cosmetics you are using use the phrases “natural dyes”, “natural pigments” or “fragrance”, there is a possibility that the cosmetic could contain Carmine.
These ‘catch-all’ ingredient listings allow the company to change or add ingredients at any time without updating the consumer or their customer service representatives. In general, a cosmetic company’s customer service representatives are not informed of the hidden changes in formulas.
How else does Carmine appear on ingredient labels? You may find Carmine listed as any of the following: “Carmine”, “Carmine (Coccus Cactil)”, “Carmine 5297”, “Carmine Ultra-Fine”, “Carminic Acid”, “Carminic Acid Lake”, “Cochineal”, “Cochineal Extract”, “Natural Red 4”, “B Rose Liquid”, “Natural Dyes”, “Natural Pigments”, “Crimson Lake,” “Natural Red 4,” “C.I. 75470,” or “E120.”
I still want that crazy intense, super long-lasting red color! Should I just go with synthetic dyes in my cosmetics? Our philosophy is that if you can find something that is just as good, natural and in line with your ethics, use it first. Awareness is key. If you know what you are using you can make more informed decisions and bend your rules every once in a while consciously, with the awareness of all that decision implies.
Are synthetic dyes a good alternative to using Carmine dye? No. We don’t think synthetic dyes are a “good alternative”. Afterglow Cosmetics does not use synthetic dyes (for example FD&C and Lake Dyes) in any of our products. Many synthetic red dyes like D&C Red No. 2 and D&C Red No. 40 have been found unsafe in cosmetics and are not approved by the FDA for use around the eyes.
With all that said about Carmine in consumables, you may be just fine with beetle juice in your products. That is definitely your decision. You may even be fascinated by the prospect of wearing bug tinted blush. Awesome. Whatever your decision. Make it with your eyes wide open!
As a cosmetic industry disruptor focused on educating the public about what is actually in your cosmetics, it’s our passion to give you all the information possible so you can make informed purchasing decisions. Knowledge is power and the more you know about anything the better decisions you can make for yourself, your family, and mother Earth. At the very least, the topic of beetle juice in your cosmetics and yogurt is a great piece of trivia for anyone to get a conversation going!
What do YOU think? Would you use a beautiful natural lipstick or lip gloss that used Carmine? Please comment below. We’d love to hear your opinion.
1. “Carmine.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (2015, May 4). Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Web. 7 May 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmine
2. “Bug-Based Food Dye Should Be … Exterminated, Says CSPI”. Cspinet.org. 2006-05-01.
3. Tabar, AI; Acero, S; Arregui, C et al. (2003). “Asthma and allergy due to carmine dye”. An Sist Sanit Navar (in Spanish) (U.S. National Library of Medicine) 26 (Suppl 2): 65–73.